Jonathan & Denise >
Here’s the second patchwork of images from our holiday in Navarra – named after the Seat Arona car we hired for the second month.
This is what we come here for :
Torre de Peña – Antiguo
Torre is Spanish for ‘tower’, but Peña is from the Aragonese language – and therefore ultimately from Latin, and means a ‘rocky place’. [The Pennines of northern England, and the Appenines of Italy both have the same linguistic root.] The village of Torre de Peña is to be found east of the village of Caseda and south of Sangüesa, high up on the hillside above the Rio Aragón, spread out across a steeply sloping bed of sandstone. Although a good forest track leads up through the wood to the south gate of the village, in mediaeval times, the village was accessible only on foot, or leading a packhorse ; and it was this inaccessibility, and its position very close to the border with the neighbouring kingdom that made it of tactical importance to Navarra. A small fortified tower at the highest point of the village – on the very brink of a deep precipice, commanded far-reaching views of the surrounding territory – both of Navarra and Aragón. After the Second World War, the population dwindled rapidly, and the last resident left in 1964. More recently, the church has recently been restored : it is used for services each year on 11 November – the festival San Martín, the patron saint of the church and village.
Our walk started and ended at the end of the public road NA5342 at the modern-day settlement of Torre de Peña (at the top of the map). The outward journey (we walked anti-clockwise) was along a track up a wooded valley – el Barranco de Peña, first with only occasional glimpses of the abandoned village perched high up above the trees ; but at last the track gave way to a tortuous narrow path with cliffs or very steep slopes above and below – easily defended from attack.
For our return route, we left the village by way of a narrow path – hidden from view – cut into a steep rocky slope, with a steel rope provided as a hand-rail. The descent back to the public was along an ancient footpath – narrow, tortuous and rocky, through a scrubby woodland.
The beautiful mediaeval village of Aibar is about 10km (about six miles) north-west of Sangüesa, and in mediaeval times was considered a strategically important settlement commanding extensive views of the frontier with neighbouring territories. Before and during the Reconquest of the Iberian peninsula, Aibar was the scene of bloody crusades against the Muslims. In later centuries, close by, there took place a battle between the Prince of Viana and his father Juan II for the succession to the throne of Navarra. Prince Carlos, who was imprisoned by his father in 1451, enjoyed Aibar’s support and in return he granted the town the title of ‘very loyal and most faithful’. It would have been a very different outcome for Aibar had Juan II not lost the battle! The street layout of Aibar is typical of the mediaeval period : narrow, cobbled streets lined with grand houses and buildings from several epochs. A labyrinth of streets goes up to the Romanesque church of San Pedro, which overlooks the town. Within the church there’s a two-metre-high Gothic sculpture of Jesus Christ : but though the church was open, it was in complete darkness, and we lacked the €1 coin to put the lighting on! We made do with the rather interesting west portal.
DIY at Casa Los Fueros
At Casa Los Fueros (our house in San Martín de Unx), come with us down the stairs to the Txoko, past the great fireplace and through the big oak door (mind the step down!) into the Utility. (Above is the terrace, accessed from the kitchen). Like the house itself, the Utility is triangular (so too is the terrace). And in one of the three corners – the narrowest – we’ve built this cupboard for tools and materials.
Tools and materials for yet more DIY – a circular sort of utility (different meaning) – for a triangular house!
Olite – The Royal City / Olite – La Ciudad Real
In mediaeval times, Navarra was ruled by the same royal dynasty as ruled France, and indeed the king or queen of both countries were one and the same person – although each kingdom was ruled quite separately and according to its own laws and traditions. It was in those times that Olite was chosen for building the king’s royal palace in Navarra, and so it was that the town was fortified, and at the strongest point of the town was built a complex comprised of church, castle and palace.
Although the palace was only rarely occupied by the king – and never more than briefly, the town was garissoned by French soldiers and key servents of the royal court, and thus the town became somewhat Frenchified. That character survives to this day in the names of the town’s streets, all of which are syled in the French manner as Rue de … rather than the Spanish style of Calle …
After Navarra was conquered by the king of neighbouring Castille – in 1512, the castle and town fortifications were largely destroyed (to prevent any further resistance from the natives) and the palace was thereafter occupied by the Virrey (Viceroy) – the king’s deputy, though even he wasn’t often in Olite. Thus, for more than four centures, Olite was largely left to mind it’s own business, the denizens thereof contenting themselves in the usual comings and goings-on of a provincial Spanish town : in parochial politics ; in church-going and pilgramages ; in feasting and fasting ; and above all in wine-making and sausage-curing.
Then, commencing in the 1920s, the Spanish state and the Navarrese provincial governments worked with the municipality to restore the palace, rebuild the castle, and make good at least some of the town’s fortifications. Although this was motivated by a desire to rediscover the distinctive identity of Navarra, it proved to be a very good investment. Nowadays, Olite is one of the most important tourist destinations in northern Spain, and it is the only place in Navarra – other than Pamplona, where we see foreign tourists (including other Brits) on any day of the week, or the year – summer and winter.
There is, however, even now, a significant number of properties in Olite that are derelict. Some have not been occupied for many decades. Occupying a prominent position on one of the principal streets south of Plaza de Carlos III el Noble, this renaissance Palacio (not a palace, more of a rather grand mansion house of a local family) is festooned with a campaign banner that proclaims a “MORAL SOLUTION : Eviction of the owners of Olite’s ruins” : that is, compulsory purchase by the authorities in order to carry out restoration and conversion to modern residential and commercial uses. We agree.
Ujué – Sendero Local NA177A, Camino de Las Pilas
The village of Ujué sits astride a high ridge where it is visible from as far away as Sangüesa (about 25km or 15 miles east) and Tafalla and Olite – both 40 km (25 miles) or so to the west. It was already established in some form when the Romans had possession of this part of the Iberian peninsula, but it was the 12thC when the fortified church of Santa María de Ujué was established by the kings of Navarra, and the village we know now started to develop around the church. (it is the distinctive outline of the church that makes it so easy to identify Ujué from even a great distance.) In mediaeval times, Ujué was one of the principal outposts of Christianity along the shifting border with the Muslim lands to the south. After the Reconquest, Ujué may have lost its strategic importance, but it gained a new iconic significance in the political and cultural narrative of Navarra, a place it retains to this day. In the 21stC, Ujué no longer holds out against foreigners, but rather welcomes them with open arms : it is one of the chief tourism hot-spots of Navarra.
The village is just 5 miles / 8km from our house in San Martín de Unx (and 250m higher), so is near enough for us to visit on the spur of the moment : for a coffee and cake, perhaps ; or for a walk about the myriad streets and alleys. On this occasion, however, we would take a 13km (8 miles) circular walk from the village among the terraces of the steep hillsides and the fields in the narrow valleys.
This is a landscape that for centuries (and even until the early 1960s – when Navarra first began to industrialize, and the population began to abandon the countryside for the cities and larger towns) was shaped by intense human activity. The tiny family plots of land were worked by manual labour – with mules for both traction and transport. The pattern of cultivation was – and by and large continues to be – both defined and limited by the communal ownership of land within the municipality (as is the case throughout Navarra), with each resident household having rights* to have land allocated to them by the Ayuntamiento (municipal council), and having rights for their livestock to graze the verges, to collect firewood, to gather fungii or hunt for game in the woods, and so on, according to the circumstances of the village.
Now, though, the terraces and myriad lanes are choked up with juniper and holm oak. The stone retaining walls and corrals, the cobbles of the lanes are falling ever more into ruin. As in Uist, cultivation of the land is too difficult to be economically viable, and – also as in Uist – few of those entitled to make use of the land have any interest in doing so. But that is not to say that Ujué is defunct, agriculturally. The increasingly extensive woods and thickets yield junipers and sloes for making patxaran (a traditional Basque liquer – pacharan in Spanish), and are hunted for wild boar and other game, and thanks to the increasing proliferation and variety of flowering wild plants and shrubs, Ujué honey is renown for its boquet. The fields of the valley bottoms yield cereals, olives continue to be harvested from olive trees, and – though diminished in extent, the remaining vineyards produce wines that are well respected (there’s certainly a few bottles of red in the wine cellar at Casa Los Fueros!).
* Were we to make Casa Los Fueros our principal home, and as a result were officially recognised as being ‘resident’ in San Martín de Unx, we would have similar rights or entitlements within our own municipality of San Martín de Unx. That said, those rights would come with associated responsibilities, not least for contributions to the upkeep of the network of lanes, land drainage – and many other onerous burdens.
Castillo de Peña, Ribera del Ebro
The small castle up on the cliffs above Quel – just across the border in the neighbouring province of La Rioja, were originally built by the muslim rulers, but after the Reconquest was adapted by the christian rulers of La Rioja and is one of a chain of such castles along the sandstone ridge.
The Dolmens of Artajona
Dolmens (ancient burial chambers, formed with large boulders and capped with great slabs of stone) are associated with the Celtic peoples who, thousands of years ago, populated much of what is now NW Europe. Dolmens are especially numerous throughout the north and west of the British Isles, but in Spain, they are limited to the far north. (There, topography, geology, vegetation and weather are all very similar to conditions in the British Isles – though with the temperature turned up a notch or two!). The two dolmens at Artajona (about 30 km – or 19 miles – SW of Pamplona) are very much a southern outpost.
Foz de Ugarrón
Foz is used in Spanish where in English we might say ‘gorge’ or ‘canyon’, though the word actually refers to a forceful rush of water (typically associated with gorges/canyons). Perhaps it has the same root from which comes the American word ‘faucet’? The Foz de Ugarrón – about 12km (8 miles) north of Lumbier – is accessible only by a very difficult path. After exchanging friendly waves with an elderly man at a solitary farmhouse at the start of the walk, we met absolutely no-one The natural beauty, the extraordinary geology, the diverse wildlife – from lizards to wild boar, and vultures to wild ponies, is breathtaking.
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